Jordan campaigns to combat drug addiction
AMMAN - Issam was reduced to tears recounting his life as a drug addict, as Jordanian authorities press an unprecedented campaign in the Muslim-majority country where substance abuse remains taboo.
Slogans such as “No to Drugs” are part of the new drive, begun after a worrying rise in the number of cases of addiction, possession and smuggling, to raise awareness of the issue, the country’s anti-narcotics department said.
Jordan’s Public Security Directorate has started a prime-time radio show that airs every Tuesday to address the dangers of drug addiction.
“Drugs have made me an outcast. No one respects me or even looks at me,” Issam said during the programme, hosted by Major Anas al-Tantawi of the anti-narcotics department.
“It got to the point where I sold my furniture and my 5-year-old daughter’s gold earrings. … I tried to commit suicide twice.”
As the show closed, Tantawi said: “They are victims and we must help them, not discard them.”
Brigadier Anwar al-Tarawneh, director of the anti-narcotics department, said there has been a 32% increase in cases of addiction, possession and smuggling in Jordan since 2017.
The evidence is there. A room in the department has shelves crammed with white plastic bags and brown envelopes bulging with seized drugs, including heroin, cocaine and amphetamines. Some were smuggled into the country in hollowed-out books or shoes or disguised as pastries in a box.
Authorities say hashish is the most commonly used drug in Jordan, where 20,000 people were arrested in 2018 for drug abuse.
Drug traffickers in Jordan, which has a population of 10.4 million, face sentences of 3-20 years in prison, depending on the amount and type of drugs seized.
Under a 2016 law, addicts are exempted from serving prison time if they agree to treatment at a rehabilitation centre.
Drug addicts are, however, generally looked down upon by Jordan’s conservative society.
“Drugs are a (vice) that affects one’s mind, soul, finances and health,” Muslim preacher Raed Sabri, who has a YouTube channel, said.
Recovering addicts, however, must be “cared for and not discarded so they can again be contributing members of society,” he insisted.
Jordan’s anti-drug campaign targets those aged 18-27, who make up 47% of users, the anti-narcotics department said.
Jamal al-Anani, a psychiatrist and drug addiction specialist, said “curiosity, lack of maturity and stress” are the main causes that lead to addiction among teenagers.
Apart from workshops in schools and universities, Tarawneh said authorities were using “modern methods,” including social media, to reach those most vulnerable.
At a 170-bed rehab centre affiliated with the Public Security Directorate in Amman, posters on the walls read “Drugs are a Monster, don’t come near” and “Drugs are a Waste of Money.”
Treatment lasts 1-2 months, said Fawaz al-Masaeed, the centre’s director. “There are three stages: detox, treatment and rehabilitation,” he said, and the centre follows up with patients for four months after their discharge.
Omar, a 32-year-old father of four, said his mother encouraged him to check in to the centre after having struggled with drug addiction for 14 years.
“A friend offered me a cigarette when I was depressed, telling me ‘Take this, it’ll make you relax,’” Omar said. “When I asked for another, I realised it was hashish. I was 18 years old.”
After years of substance abuse, “my health deteriorated, I lost 27 kilos, I lost my job and it strained my relationships with everyone around me. I destroyed my life.”
Now after his rehabilitation, Omar said he hopes “to start a new life.”